Elegant gull sighting has birders aflutter

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Josh Pennell
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Rare avian visitor shows up in Torbay

It’s the kind of bird that can put all the local gulls to shame, and not just because it likely won’t be beaking through your trash.
“It’s pretty rare, even on a worldwide scale,” says bird enthusiast and Telegram columnist Bruce Mactavish.

The rare Ross’s gull made its first appearance in Newfoundland since 1991.
— Photo by Bruce Mactavish/Special to The Telegram

In fact, it’s the first time since 1991 that a Ross’s gull has been spotted in this province. The main population breeds in northern Russia, though Mactavish says a handful are known to breed in the Canadian Arctic. He’s seen a couple in his lifetime, including that 1991 visitor.

“But still, it’s a very exciting bird no matter where you’re from, because it’s just a hard bird to see,” Mactavish says.

“And it’s kind of an elegant, pretty little bird with a lot of mystique around it. They don’t even know where most of them spend the winter.”

There’s a few thousand somewhere in Siberia each summer, but come winter they head far out to sea. It’s thought that the ones that breed in the Canadian North head off the coast of Labrador — way, way off the coast. Mactavish suggests the one seen here now was blown in by the constant northeast winds we’ve been getting. This bird was spotted off Torbay beach on Tuesday by somebody who didn’t quite know what it was but described it on a birdwatching news group. Mactavish took off for the beach.

“It took awhile to see it. It was pretty far out. But it was a Ross’s gull,” he says. “That coastline is very rugged and the northeast wind was driving a swell in there creating all this. … It was kind of a tideline full of debris that it was picking around in.”

As for why it may be slightly more popular than the local gulls — rarity is certainly a big factor. And well, not to split feathers or anything, but the Ross’s gull has got the looks.

“They are famous for having a pink blush on their breast and their head, but this one is very strongly coloured. It’s a very bright sort of salmon pink. It’s a little bit of orange,” says Mactavish.

That, coupled with pearly grey underwings, makes this gull a real catch.

Those going down to Torbay beach for a look should bring a spotting scope. While it may stand out from the crowd, Mactavish says you’ll be hard pressed to get a lock on this birdy with a set of

binoculars.

josh.pennell@thetelegram.com

Geographic location: Torbay, Northern Russia, Siberia Labrador

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